Thursday, March 05, 2009

Is Internet the Answer to Book Publishing? Cory Doctorow's View

These observations of Cory Doctorow on locusmag.com is revealing, so far as my limited exposure to book publishing is concerned. True, publishing companies can't maintain regular editors, proof-readers, and salesmen anymore. Many people say Internet is the future of publishing, while many rubbish the very idea that books can be made available as internet downloads and read with electronic readers, instead of the paper-bound books we have today. Though publishing houses are full of "consulting editors" why haven't authors' co-operatives and boutique operations succeeded like it has in the music business. The author feels it is because these "vanity published" books are not marketed by a sales force (the sort that rubs a lot of leather on pavements and befriends bookshop clerks).

Says he, "The best definition I've heard of "publishing" comes from my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who says, "publishing is making a work public." That is, identifying a work and an audience, and taking whatever steps are necessary to get the two together (you'll note that by this definition, Google is a fantastic publisher). Publishing is not printing, or marketing, or editorial, or copy-editing, or typesetting. It may comprise some or all of these things, but you could have the world's best-edited, most beautiful, well-bound book in the world, and without a strategy for getting it into the hands of readers, all it's good for is insulating the attic. (This is the unfortunate discovery made by many customers of vanity publishers.)

"Today, many of the key functions that we think of as publishing are actually done by outsource firms, consultants, and freelancers. It's a rare publisher that runs its own printing presses. "Consulting editors" (freelancers) outnumber salaried staff at some houses, and every house has a few kicking around. Many copyeditors and typesetters have long worked on a freelance basis, flitting from publisher to publisher, getting paid by the page. PR departments are not adverse to hiring specialist consultants or to tapping into a nationwide network of local freelance media reps who act as shepherds and crying shoulders for touring authors. Art departments commission paintings from freelancers, art students, promising designers, and all manner of creatives, expanding the aesthetic range of the house beyond a few in-house illustrators."

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